MIKE JONES

As Roger Goodell again offers no answers on hiring problems, it's time for NFL to retire Rooney Rule | Opinion

Mike Jones
USA TODAY

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Roger Goodell took the bullets for his 32 bosses. Again.

As is becoming an annual tradition, the commissioner of the NFL saw his Super Bowl week news conference dominated by tough questions about his league's ongoing ugly diversity hiring track record. 

Most specifically, Goodell fielded questions about why the league’s teams continue to deny Black coaching candidates – all boasting extensive qualifications and robust resumes – equal employment opportunities on the head coaching level. 

Goodell took the blame for the lack of progress. He said those in the league need to “step back and say, ‘We’re not doing a good enough job. We need to find better solutions.' ” But Goodell’s answers largely rang hollow because he – the man paid handsomely to serve as a shield for the owners – had no real solutions.

Nearly 20 years after it was adopted, the Rooney Rule – the NFL’s hiring policy intended to ensure minorities receive equal opportunities to interview for top leadership positions with franchises – has undergone multiple overhauls and modifications. In its current form, the rule requires teams to interview at least two minority candidates from outside of their organizations for every head coaching and general manager opening. 

The most recent amendment – approved by the owners just less than a year ago – paved the way for a record number of minority candidates to be interviewed for head-coaching jobs this hiring cycle. However, with only one Black coach (Lovie Smith in Houston) and one biracial candidate (Mike McDaniel in Miami) chosen among the nine vacancies, the Rooney Rule created nothing more than an all-time high of embarrassments -- for the league office, the coaches who interviewed for the jobs (many of them simply to enable teams to check the box) and their families. 

The only individuals not embarrassed by another offseason of either stagnancy or regression were the owners, because although diversity sounds nice, it really doesn’t matter to them.  

It’s officially time to retire the Rooney Rule. 

That’s the assessment commonly shared by a host of frustrated Black aspiring head coaches. They’re hurt, frustrated, fatigued and at the same time, not at all surprised by another round of gut punch rejections. 

They’re tired of getting their hopes up only to have them dashed. And who can blame them? 

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif.

No coach has any desire to serve as a token interview. None wants a job handed to them because they fill a minority quota. For the thousandth time, they simply want the same kinds of consideration and job opportunities their white counterparts receive. But NFL owners, even in 2022, remain as uncomfortable as ever with the idea of appointing a Black man to lead their franchises.

The diversity problem lies at the feet of the owners. Not Goodell or the NFL’s corporate offices. The owners. And until they are willing to take a long, hard look at the matter and realize the lack of diversity in leadership positions actually weakens the league, nothing will change.

Goodell acknowledged that the league is in no better shape on this front than it was a year ago. He admitted that he has no answers at this point.

“Is there another thing we can do to attract the best talent and make our league inclusive?” Goodell asked. “If I had the answer, I would give it to you. I would have implemented it.”

The commissioner talked about conducting another modification of the Rooney Rule, and bringing in consultants to help find ways to promote better hiring practices at head coach and general manager. 

But at this point, Goodell and his team have done everything from expand the Rooney Rule to re-introduce minority coaching fellowships designed to give aspiring coaches of color internship-like opportunities with teams. They have created incentive programs that award teams draft picks for developing and promoting minority coaches or front office leaders who eventually get top jobs elsewhere. They provide teams with extensive scouting reports on minority coach and general manager candidates. They even sponsor a coaching summit designed to give aspiring coaches opportunities to network with prospective employers.

But none of it has led to growth on this front.

There’s no way to force owners to hire a Black head coach, and no one wants that, anyway. Sincerely considering minority candidates should be something coaches and team presidents want to do on their own, because casting a wide net ensures a team has the richest talent pool possible when filling the most important leadership jobs in the organization.

So, kill off the Rooney Rule, but continue to seek ways to promote improved hiring practices. It’s wrong to completely abandon hope for change. But the Rooney Rule isn't the answer.

It’s clear that to date, NFL owners have willingly voted in approval of Goodell’s initiatives. In truth, they’re simply voting "yay" to satisfy appearances. Then they act in a completely contradictory manner.

Despite Goodell’s declaration Wednesday that the league cares about diversity, there’s nothing at all genuine about owners’ commitments to the cause, and there’s not an ounce of accountability at play.

Meanwhile, minority coaches need to band together and take strong stands until they achieve the desired change.

Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores delivered the first blow in the form of the proposed class-action lawsuit that exposed the ugly truths that many coaches have privately suspected. 

But it will take more than that to sway billionaires hell-bent on running their organizations as they please.

Black coaches can collectively take a stand and stop going on interviews that they suspect are disingenuous. 

Traditionally, minority coaches have hesitated to turn down interview opportunities for jobs they believe they have no chance of securing because they fear being branded as ungrateful or problematic. 

But it’s not as though serving as token interview candidates has led to a boom in diversity hires. And if there’s no Rooney Rule, teams will either only interview coaches they truly are intrigued by, or they’ll simply continue to hire white coaches while passing over men of color at the same alarming rate as they always have.

The Rooney Rule is now nearly 20 years old, and rather than cultivating progress, it has simply made a mockery of the hiring process. More heartbreak, more frustrations, more embarrassments, but certainly no growth on the diversity front. And until this generation of narrow-minded, country-club mentality owners passes, very little will change in the NFL.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.